The Climb

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The hiker leaned on his walking stick, sweat dripping from each eyebrow, off his nose like an old barn faucet, “You’re about a third of the way there.”

Huffing, verging on puffing, I stammered out, “Great.” It was part spit, part response as I grabbed a rock with my right hand and lifted through a worn ledge of desert. The sun rose to my left. A dog flitted past. Two hikers passed me, smiling, on their way down, a woman corrected my route, “This way,” as I wandered off course and wished for those eight strides back. On I walked, trekked, staggered, over rocks, past cactus, scree sliding beneath my light running shoes.

The sign did warn us…

Welcome to Black Mountain

Warning: This is a steep rocky primitive trail

Please help keep Black Mountain Beautiful by staying on the designated Path

Distance: 2.2 miles Round Trip

Enjoy your hike

BEGIN

I gave it little thought. Now, a third of the way to the top, I started to become a believer, as I thought about the last three things I drank, two local draft IPAs at the Buffalo Chip Saloon last night and a cup of room-brewed coffee, complete with non-dairy creamer this morning. I yearned for water, as I watched a water bottle slosh from a woman’s pack, a few hundred feet above me. Hiking shoes would have helped, water might have saved.

I twisted through natural crevices, snaked around boulders, navigated like a mountain goat, pulled off a long-sleeve running shirt, finally seeing the top, or what I thought was the top.

“How much farther?” I asked a descending climber.

“Another mile or so.”

I grunted. He laughed.

Onward and upward, I reached the top – a flat, scraggly, roundish platform of peace. I ascended about 10 minutes later than I expected, well past 8 o’clock. You should never hurry a hike, but I needed to get back to the Carefree Resort to listen to the final conference on medication at the National HBPA convention. Yes, medication, I felt a long way away from a conference on medication. It was nice to feel a long way from a conference on medication.

I took a long, deep breath and slowly turned 360 degrees. The sun burst above the horizon, creating an artist’s mist between the mountains and the sky. Cacti jutted like buoys in a frozen ocean. Rocks and boulders laid and leaned everywhere, like they had fallen off the back of a delivery truck and were forgotten, centuries ago.

All I needed was a guitar.  

“Whew,” I said, trying to slow my breathing.

“Welcome to Arizona,” a woman said, sharing a rock with a friend.

I didn’t even know they were there.

I snapped a photo in each direction – east, west, south, north. The “Welcome to Arizona” girl asked if I wanted her to take a picture of me at the top. I almost said no, but am glad I said yes.

“Be careful going down, it can get slippery,” she said, handing my phone back to me.

“Thanks,” I said, sliding my phone into the back pocket of my sweat-stained khaki shorts, and headed down, hurrying and relaxing all at the same time, content to have pushed away my laptop and pulled on my sneakers. At 44, I find myself observing more than participating, I thought of this as I descended, the euphoria of the climb replacing the arduousness of the climb.

There is nothing like going downhill, after going uphill. I reached a paved road at the bottom and arrived at my rental car. I looked back at Black Mountain, my new friend, standing in splendid isolation.

If I squinted, I could just make out the path to the top.